Samuel Harris slowed, pulled into the parking lot, drifted right and stopped. He looked at the diner, at the two cars parked in the lot, up at the sign. As faded as the sign was he could still read it: Bessemer Diner. The diner had seen better days.
He parked next to a pickup truck, took a moment, said a silent prayer, then grabbed his Bible off the passenger seat, checked himself in the rearview mirror, ran fingers through his hair, adjusted his collar, opened the door and stepped out. It was mid-afternoon and too hot.
The Bessemer Diner was at the junction of County Road 400 and Bartlett Road, a mile west of State Route 18. Catty-corner from it was a small brick building that had once been a machine shop; it was boarded up. The other two corners? Empty, and always had been. Next to and behind the diner, scrub weeds and grass, struggling to stay alive. Further out a soybean field.
A bell rang when Samuel Harris stepped inside the diner. In the back, at the far table, two faces looked up. Harris assumed those were the two he was looking for, described as a young skinny kid, not all that smart and a bit slow, and an older guy, overweight and slovenly. Walking to their table Harris stopped at the counter, no one behind it. He waited for a face to pop up in the kitchen hatch and when that didn’t happen he slapped the counter a couple times. A woman’s face appeared. “Sweetheart, could I get a cup of coffee?” he asked. She nodded without saying a word. She noticed his collar. There wasn’t a church around for miles.
Harris walked to the table, sat, looked at the two there and said “I’m who you’re waiting for.” He knew that would take a moment to sink in. His coffee arrived before either of them said a word. “I’m sure you weren’t expecting a preacher,” he said. “No reason you would.”
The young one was dull in the face, breathing a bit harder than seemed warranted. He had short hair the color of bleached straw and a chin too close to his Adam’s apple and small eyes that were too close together. The fat one licked his lips, turned and looked out into the parking lot, then turned back. “This can’t be right,” he said. His face was round and his eyes and his nose and his lips were round. His shoulders were round. He was breathing through his mouth, hunched over a bit, elbows on the table.
Harris extended his right hand across the table. “Samuel Harris,” he said.
The fat one reluctantly raised a hand and shook. The handshake was limp. “Walter Culpepper,” he said.
Harris looked at the kid. His hands were under the table; he gave Harris a nervous nod and said “Henry Tate.” Harris nodded back, sipped his coffee, looked back at the cash register, looked at the doorway leading into the kitchen, turned back and asked “You fellas hungry? I could spot you a meal if you need.”
They shook their heads. Each had a soda pop of some kind in front of them. Tall glasses with straws poking out.
Samuel Harris was fifty-one years old and a self-ordained preacher. He hadn’t spent an hour in seminary ever, anywhere. He was a high school dropout who, in his mid-twenties, spent two-and-a-half years in prison—medium security—came out and spent the next two decades bouncing around, working entry-level jobs and flirting with petty crime. That, and drinking a lot. He lived inside a bottle for two decades until one night Jesus Christ himself appeared, knelt down right beside him—right where he was sprawled out, too drunk to keep drinking—and asked him if he wanted to live or die. When Harris said live, Jesus told him to act like it, stood up and walked off.
“You come from Drake?” Walter asked. In many ways Walter’s life was similar to Harris’s, except he hadn’t bounced around that much and he didn’t drink. Petty crime? Plenty of that, but over the last year he’d been attempting to elevate his game.
“I was praying with James Drake when you called,” Harris said. He put the coffee down. It was on the bitter side and weak.
“What?” It was the skinny one who asked, Henry.
The story keeps you wondering what will happen next It looked very interesting.